Take a look around you, wherever you may be, and look for the closest person. Maybe they’re in a window in a house next door; maybe they’re walking down the street looking at their phone. What lives have these people lead? What stories are hidden within?
That’s the simple premise of Behind The Frame, an hour-long narrative adventure from Taiwanese developers Silver Lining Studio. It was shown off during the Day of the Devs showcase at E3 this year, and last week during Gamescom the game launched on Steam, iOS and Android.
You play as an artist who’s trying to complete a submission to a gallery in New York. The focus is very much in the present, as you concentrate on the brush strokes and the lo-fi cafe chill music that plays in the background.
The process is a set of daily rituals: making coffee, eating eggs and toast for breakfast, and slowly discovering where you’ve left various tubes of paint around your apartment. They’re all tasks usually hidden by some light puzzles, but Behind The Frame isn’t a taxing adventure. It’s more of a Ghibli-inspired narrative adventure, complete with some nicely animated cut scenes as you progress through the chapters.
For the most part, most of your main progress is tied to an elderly neighbour who lives in the apartment across. As you sit and sip your freshly brewed coffee, you stare through the window at him and his cat, smiling and trying to say hello. He ignores you, of course, and so Behind The Frame becomes an exercise in watching his works, sketching what he does and wondering what sort of life he’s had.
There’s not a huge amount of actual painting or sketching in the game, although the animations are satisfying; more so if you’re playing on iPad with access to an Apple Pencil. As such, Behind The Frame is best thought of as an interactive story than a true point-and-click adventure. It’s the sort of thing that’s exceptionally well enjoyed on the couch via a tablet or phone with headphones, or on the PC with speakers blasting and a nice glass of red. (I initially tried to play Behind The Frame through Steam Link and the Nvidia Shield, but it’s not a game that’s designed around controller support, and the lack of compatibility proved too frustrating.)
It’s a shame there’s not more mechanical engagement with the art, because the sketching and painting mechanics are fun to play with. But it’s also a short story at heart, one that will take most people just over an hour. Everything in the game is hand-drawn. Combined with the music and charm, it has a quality that reminds me of playing Florence — although Behind The Frame isn’t accompanied by the deep sadness of Florence.
Behind The Frame‘s main twist is pretty easy to see coming. So if there’s any serious flaws with Beyond The Frame, it’s an inability to explore its central idea too deeply. But the same way you can love a Ghibli film like Howl’s Moving Castle, even though My Neighbour Totoro, Porco Rosso or Princess Mononoke are probably superior films, the Taiwanese indie is an enjoyable time.
It’s probably better enjoyed on mobiles or iPads than PC, just because the cost-to-ratio is a bit better and you’re not losing anything from the experience. With Beyond The Frame and some noise cancelling headphones, biscuits, tea or coffee and maybe a nice blanket: it’s a real nice way to wind down an afternoon or evening.